After the death of Jean Gray/Phoenix, the X-men (consisting of Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine, Storm, and Professor X) discover a telepathic dead zone around Northern Japan, and yet a significant increase in the X-Gene’s appearance. When a Japanese girl named Hisako Ichiki goes missing around the dead zone, the X-men follow her trail and unravel the mutant kidnappings in the land of the rising sun. The 12-episode Marvel anime gets everything right, and explores new territory.
The question in cross-cultural translation is always how much familiarity to preserve, and how much surprise to introduce. In this sense, it gets X-men right; for both Japan and America. The essence of the American characters is there in behavior, and the setting is Japanese, though there are episodes that do take place in America. There are at least 1 or 2 big action scenes every episode with new villains, monsters, and of course overpowered Japanese robots, so it’s never boring. Two new members join the X-men: a former enemy Emma Frost, as well as the Japanese girl (who can make a impenetrable barrier of energy; she's code-named Armor.) This is great for showing the Japanese audiences how the X-men learn to use their powers for good at the Xavier Institute.
Meanwhile, back in Japan, the X-men battle the U-Men, who have been collecting data on mutants, and harvesting their organs to make an army. Some really great battle scenes take place at the U-Men’s base, with gigantic robots and killer mutants. The U-Men can counter the X-men’s special abilities with their data, so they all have to hit them with everything, which is truly fantastic to watch, and in true Japanese form. Finally, someone from Professor X’s past returns to haunt him. I should add that his disability does play a role in the revelation.
One of the great things about this show is how well the action is translated. The Brotherhood has its own Japanese variation, (The Inner Circle) as does the Friends of Humanity (Basically, the U-Men.) Familiar designs with Japanese settings. The action is well-translated, but I noticed that sometimes the English audio did not match the English subtitles. Even though I speak English and German, not Japanese, it was fun to watch with both on so I could pick out little subtleties. For example, once Wolverine says “Where do you take a dump?” but the subtitles say, “Where do you wash yourself?” also Wolverine’s “Grow a pair!” is subtitled as “You must harden yourself! As X-men, such is our fate!”
A note on the character of Wolverine. Since the events here take place after Jean’s death, he and Cyclops are still dealing with their grief. This gives the animators an excuse for Cyclops to act like a loose laser cannon for most of the series. That’s traditionally Wolverine’s role, but here he often acts as a stabilizer to Cyclops, even though he’s still gruff and rude; he is the only other X-man who has been to Japan, understands its customs, and feels at home there. So, the two X-men temporarily switch roles. This serves to introduce Japanese audiences to American character dynamics, (Wolverine quips “When I’m the steady rock and you’re the wild man, you know something’s wrong.") but takes advantage of Wolverine’s experience to provide a crossover to Japanese audiences. Truly brilliant intercultural communication.
The design of the show is beautiful. Detailed art and action scenes, beautiful landscapes, and even the openings and credits are fantastic. The credits show events from the X-men Universe (first in traditional 80s outfits then up to the 00s style outfits.) as a traditional Japanese wall scroll moving vertically with the credits. In the first episode, they wear the 80s outfits, although that time is referred to as “a year ago.” So, maybe in the X-men Universe, the old costumes were a year ago; whatever makes the story make sense. But, Magneto is referred to as in a plastic bubble prison. So, to me, that hints pretty well that this X-men Universe, which is shortly after Jean Gray’s death, is set in the same continuity as the 00s movies.
In conclusion, the series is true to the X-men, and puts them up against new villains for a new adventure. The visuals are fantastic, and the action and scenery are beautiful. In the special features, you see the Marvel writers talking to the Japanese animators and explaining how to keep it American (Action scenes, and USA settings) while showing Japanese audiences what the X-men are all about. The Japanese animators (some of whom had never heard of The X-men.) put it best: “This [X-Men] deals with the question of ‘How can they work together?’ Likewise, how do we think about what Americans like, and keep it Japanese?” I can say it looks like the animators got it, and presented a distinctly cross-cultural version of X-men all through visual art!